Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Less might be more, but that doesn't make it easy

Enough about me and my kids, already! I think its time you get to hear someone else gripe for a change. Which is why I have a very exciting GUEST POST for you today from local fiction writer Kimberly McCreight.
She may write fiction but on a mom amok we only speak the truth, so here is her honest to blog reflections on how hard it is to just let go with your firstborn, even when you've mastered the skill with your youngest. I totally relate -- testimony of which is the fact that my daughter went on the balcony today in a halter dress while my son was wearing a hat. Parenting is baffling.

Less might be more, but that doesn't make it easy.
By Kimberly McCreight

“Why don’t we let her sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor of our room then?” My husband suggested calmly when, one day six months ago, our five year old daughter Harper suddenly refused to sleep alone anymore.

The problem really wasn’t just sleep. Harper wouldn’t be alone in her room period. And even if you sat there with her until she fell asleep, she’d pop awake in the middle of the night, every night, and demand you return. She wasn’t just being obstinate either. She was genuinely terrified, panicked even. I know what it looks like. She’s always been a child prone to fears, though—after months of dedicated Feberiz-ing and Weissbluth-ing back when she was an infant—she had always at least slept through the night.

“Well, how long do we let her sleep there?” I asked my husband. My heart was already speeding up.

He shrugged as he took off his work shirt. “Until she outgrows it.”

Outgrows it? Already, I had visions of Harper at sixteen still sleeping on our floor. I imagined her as a middle schooler, friendless because she couldn’t host or attend sleepovers. I thought of a marriage forever devoid of nighttime privacy.

“Like a couple months,” my husband added, probably in response to my open jaw. “She’ll get tired of sleeping there before long.”

My husband has always been that way, maddeningly unruffled by these child-rearing detours. I’ve come to see it as a malady.

Now, if this had been my younger daughter, Emerson, I’d have been able to take this no-sleeping, bedroom-phobia turn of events much more in stride too. Like Harper, Emerson has had more than her fair share of fears and sensitivities—loud noises, fire, men in general, and bearded ones in particular—and they’ve hit at almost the exact same ages they did for her older sister. But with Emerson, I have remained calm, nonplussed even, convinced that time heals all wounds or will eventually, at least, suggest a solution. With her, I’ve seen it all before. And, so far, it all turns out pretty much okay.

But for some reason with Harper, I am unable to generalize from her own history. Each new speed bump feels in need of direct and immediate smoothing. It must be confronted in all its ugly roughness and repaired, not simply circled around.

So instead of taking my husband’s advice about this sleeping bag nonsense—which was, in fact, gleaned from something I’d read—I tried to push back on Harper, to draw a line in the sand. After all, encouraging her to confront her other fears and move past them had so far been the most effective approach.

“No, you cannot sleep in our room,” I kept on repeating that first night for hours on end. “No, I will not sleep on your floor and no, you cannot sleep in our bed. Everyone sleeps in their own bed.”

It didn’t work, at all. Unless, of course, my objective had been to make Harper panic more. Because that, she did do. She rushed from her room and refused to return. She cried, she yelled. She kicked. My voice got louder. Not firmer either, just madder, as I stood there in her doorway with my arms crossed.

But more than anything, I was worried. Worried that this new bedtime/bedroom/sleep fear might finally be the one she wouldn’t overcome. Harper, of course, mistook my fear for disapproval. Self-recriminations quickly followed.

“I am the most terrible girl in the world,” she whimpered the twelfth time she refused to budge from her spot in the hall where she was splayed like a small animal frantically gripping onto an ice patch.

It made my toes curl.

Less than a minute later the sleeping bag was out on our floor. And Harper came to our room to sleep in it in the middle of that first night. She slept there quietly and happily every night thereafter for six long months. It went on, much to my dismay, until it came time to transition Emerson into a toddler bed in Harper’s bedroom. Now, that they have each other, Harper’s bedroom fears are a distant memory. She’s been sleeping through the night in her own bed ever since.

I’d liked to think I’ve learned something from this. That I now know that the only way to solve some of Harper’s problems will be to wait until time or circumstance allows them to pass into the ether. I hope that I understand now that I will not be able to fix everything she feels.

And, who knows, maybe I even do. Whether I’ll remember it the next time Harper decides to surprise me, well now, that’s a different question altogether.